Twenty thousand millimetres under the sea

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January 19th 2014
Published: January 19th 2014
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Sail Rock & Sipidan

About the only real sustained extravagance of our travels was our addiction to scuba diving. We dived in the waters of Indonesia, Tonga, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. We did over 40 dives in a year and a half. It’s not particularly remarkable if you consider that a dive shop employee may do that many in a fortnight. But we’re pleased to have had the opportunity to dive so much.

We saw the good – colourful, healthy reefs and abundant sea life – and the bad – devastation caused by dynamite fishing; a juvenile shark served up for dinner at a beachside restaurant on Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand. We saw how the vast majority of dive shops are owned and run by westerners, with locals only employed as lackeys, if at all. (Where possible, we went with the locally-owned and ran outfits.) We saw shark fin served at restaurants in Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines (Chinese restaurants, it must be said) and not a single shark on almost 90% of our dives. On a happier note, we’ve dived in marine conservation areas and experienced the difference this legislation makes, when enforced.

Throughout this time, Mina honed her underwater photography skills, which is no mean feat. There are numerous additional considerations to make when photographing and filming underwater.

1. It’s difficult to stay still, as you are moved by the swell and current.

2. Finding something to hold onto, that isn’t alive, is often tricky.

3. If you use your camera’s zoom, the pictures often look blurry.

4. If you go too close, you may scare your subject.

5. The damn creatures won’t stay still!

6. Colours are altered at varying depths, meaning it’s a struggle to obtain the correct balance.

7. Staying still is more productive, but the leader of your group (the dive master) wants to press on.

8. Excellent buoyancy control is needed, to enable hovering and slow movement.

While working in Malaysia in 2013, we had the good fortune to do a few dives at some of the best locations we’ve experienced – Sail Rock, in the Gulf of Thailand, and the world-renowned Sipidan Island, off the south-east corner of Malaysian Borneo. Both featured astounding numbers and sizes of aquatic creatures. At Sipidan, we saw more reef sharks and turtles than we saw in the rest of our forty-plus dives put together. At both locations, we saw familiar friends, but at bigger sizes than we’re accustomed to – barracuda, trevally, grouper, moray eels – and enormous schools of jackfish and fusiliers, their yellow stripes illuminating the water like electric sparks.

Sipidan is so celebrated that permits to dive there are limited and highly prized. In actuality, it wasn’t difficult to obtain one, although we did organise in advance. It’s about an hour’s speedboat ride from the depressing Semporna, a grotty town on Sabah’s south coast. Most people wisely choose to stay at one of the resorts on Mabul Island, halfway between the two. Sail Rock is easily accessible from Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.

We hope you enjoy these photos as much as we enjoyed diving at these amazing sites.

Additional photos below
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20th January 2014
Sea anemone

Fab photos!
Great photos and adventures! Glad to hear there are Marine Conservation Areas that are doing well. Hopefully, more people will dive in these and more will be established.
21st January 2014
Sea anemone

Hi Tara, thanks for your comment. Yes the diving was amazing in Borneo and Thailand and you definitely get an enormous appreciation for the underwater world. Best wishes, B&A
22nd January 2014

Awesome dive and beautiful photos
Love the photos. I am so happy that you managed to see so many things. Just some quick questions, did you guys need to stay over somewhere before going over to Maul? And what underwater set up is Mina using? Looking forward to more dive trips and photos. Have an awesome time in Sipadan!! (^_^)
26th January 2014

Underwater camera set-up & Semporna
Hello, Thanks for your comments. It's always great to know that people enjoy the blogs. We stayed overnight in Semporna, before going to Mabul and Sipidan. We'd arrived on the afternoon Air Asia flight from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau (an hour's drive from Semporna). This meant it was too late to take a boat transfer to Mabul. If you get a morning flight, you'll be able to make the boat transfer. Most of the resorts on Mabul will organise a transfer for their guests, but perhaps only once a day. This was the case at Uncle Chang's, where we stayed, and dived with. (Our review of UC here: Underwater, Mina uses a Canon S95, with underwater housing specifically for that model. On dry land she uses a Canon 5D MkII. If you need more info, let us know. Best wishes, B&M

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